The Interviews

The Great and Powerful OZ … Olimpia Zagnoli

Interview by Leif Steiner & Emily Potts

The work of Italian illustrator Olimpia Zagnoli, is brilliantly provocative, swirling with colorful geometric forms that are strategic in their simplicity. Her renderings of people rarely have fully formed faces, yet you know exactly what they’re thinking. As she notes, “less is more.” Zagnoli’s clients include The New York Times, Google, and Taschen, among others. In 2013, she illustrated The Wonderful Wizard of Oz for Rockport Publishers illustrated classics series, which allowed her to put her initials—and in a way, her likeness—front and center on the book cover.

Although she is young, Zagnoli has already made an indelible impact in the art world. Her parents, undoubtedly, were a huge influence—her mother, a painter; and her father, a photographer. In fact, in 2012, she partnered with her father, Miro Zagnoli, to design and sell products under the moniker Clodomiro, which is actually her father’s full name. This endeavor allows her to step away from her editorial roots to create things she herself would want to own. Here we talk to her about this unusual collaboration and why it ultimately works.

What made you decide to go into business with your dad?

My dad is a photographer. He mostly works in the design field. I’ve been around his studio since I was a kid and I’d see beautiful furniture and objects brought in to be photographed, so it was easy for me to develop an interest in design. My dad was in search of something like a side-project to dedicate his free time, and so we created our own brand of objects.

Is it odd selling items with illustrations of dicks and boobs with your dad?

It was my dad’s idea! What can you do about it? I feel like family, intimate things and irony belong in the same world here [Italy]. In a country full of taboos, there’s nothing that can’t be exorcised with a good laugh. Although, I think my mother-in-law is still in shock.

How do you determine what kinds of products/images will sell?

We study them for a very long time, and we make sketches and order lots of samples (I have a drawer full of them in my studio). We try and try and try until we find what we like best. We opened the shop four years ago, and some objects have been a work-in-progress since then. Since we’re not a large company, we have the luxury of time, and we use it to find the best artisans and producers for our products. Our bestselling products are the Mamma T-shirt and the Ugo and Olivia plates.

How often do you and your dad disagree about business things—products, designs, etc?

Well he’s obviously more old-school than I am, which sometimes is a good things and other times can be annoying. We certainly have different rhythms, but our taste is quite similar, so in the end we never discuss the quality or the look of something. We just know instantly if we like it or not.

Who would be your dream client and why?

A Milanese lady celebrating her 70th birthday with friends, and serves thousands of pastries on our plates on her beautiful terrace.

I think I’m very similar to my illustrations, but I open my heart only to a few people in my life.

What’s the worst client experience you’ve ever had?

A tanned, tiny man in a family-run company here in Italy, once told me, “Next time, if you want your usage-rights to be paid, I hope you’ll show up in high-heels.” His company went bankrupt a few months later. Karma?


You seem to enjoy drawing nude figures. What’s your favorite body part to draw?



Originally published on June 24, 2016